Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford has appealed to the UK government to reconsider its decision not to extend the school food voucher scheme into the summer holidays.
The striker penned an open letter to the government this week to ask for the scheme to be extended outside of the school term, in an effort to provide support to nearly 1.3 million young people who are eligible to claim it.
What did Rashford say?
The 22-year-old footballer has expressed concerns that the plan to end the food voucher scheme in July could affect some of society’s most vulnerable people.
The scheme was set up to guarantee that children who would have ordinarily received free meals at school would continue to have food provided during the coronavirus lockdown.
In an open letter to the government, Rashford said: “The Government has taken a ‘whatever it takes’ approach to the economy – I’m asking you today to extend that same thinking to protecting all vulnerable children across England.
“I encourage you to hear their pleas and find your humanity. Please reconsider your decision to cancel the food voucher scheme over the summer holiday period and guarantee the extension.
“This is England in 2020, and this is an issue that needs urgent assistance.
“Please, while the eyes of the nation are on you, make the U-turn and make protecting the lives of some of our most vulnerable a top priority.”
The footballer, who has raised £20million to boost food distribution with the charity FareShare, followed up his appeal with a column in the The Times Newspaper on Tuesday (16 June), in which he admitted to receiving free meals as a child, and using food banks.
He wrote: "Today I focus on a trophy that stands for something much bigger than football.
"A U-turn on the decision to stop the free food voucher scheme continuing over the summer holidays could help us reach the next round but we still have a very long way to go as a country to eventually lift the trophy. In this case, the trophy is combating child poverty.
"I don't claim to have the education of an MP in parliament, but I do have a social education.“I am clued up on the difference a U-turn decision would make on the 1.3 million vulnerable children across the UK who are registered for free school meals because 10 years ago I was one of them."
What did Thérèse Coffey say?
The open letter to MPs has garnered a wealth of support for the campaign, with the Labour Party, education leaders and former England striker Gary Lineker backing the cause.
However, a minister has become embroiled in a row over her response to a tweet made by Rashford in his effort to put pressure on the government to extend the scheme.
One tweet said: “When you wake up this morning and run your shower, take a second to think about parents who have had their water turned off during lockdown”.
Work and Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey responded to the tweet, saying: “Water cannot be disconnected though”.
The comment has come under fire by many, with shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds labelling it as “snarky”, while Rashford encouraged the MP to “make a difference”.
In response, he wrote: “I'm concerned this is the only tweet of mine you acknowledged. Please, put rivalries aside for a second, and make a difference."
After facing backlash for her comment, Ms Coffey said she is “working to the same aim”, and stressed that herself and the government would continue its efforts to support families and businesses through the current crisis, and beyond.
Has the government responded?
The UK government has agreed to set up a “Covid summer school fund” to allow children to continue to receive free school meals during the summer holidays.
Those who are eligible for the scheme during term time England will be given a six-week voucher to use over the summer, Downing Street has said.
The vouchers will provide around £15 per week for each recipient, and the cost will amount to £120 million in additional funding.
Responding to the government’s decision to extend the school meal vouchers, Mr Rashford said on Twitter: "Just look at what we can do when we come together, THIS is England in 2020."